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Pedals have long been the go-to for effects. The nice thing is you can buy the pedal you want, and slowly (and affordably) put together a foot board that is customized to your taste.
Often, guitarists build up these boards over the playing career and the “finished” pedal board is as much a badge of honor as it is functional.
However, with the advent of Multi-effects boards, a lot of new guitarists are asking “which is better? Multi boards or single pedals?”
That’s a tough question to answer. Single effect pedals offer a more “unprocessed” sound that a lot of rock purists appreciate. They also offer more control, especially for some of those functions like the wah, whammy, and delay where playing the pedal with judicious skill can often offer as much to your sound as your musical skills.
However, multi-effects pedals offer a wide array of sounds for an affordable price. For a few hundred dollars, a garage band can create sound effects that, two decades ago, they would have been playing all year to save up for.
The board makes it a lot easier to switch between selections, and offers an insane amount of variety that you can mix and match and create presets for.
In addition, you can get looping and drum functions that single pedals may not offer.
And that’s why you see a lot of people use a board in conjunction with a wah-wah pedal and distortion or delay pedal. This makes it easy to get all of the effects you need at your fingertips (or toetips, if you rather).
Finally, a multi-effects board can be better for live performances. With all of those presets and options you can create a lot larger feel out of your small band. And, the audience isn’t likely to know or care about the difference.
As time goes on, we will start to see where these boards become modular and are sold in sets so you can mix and match them. This will offer such an incredibly mind-blowing array of control and new sounds, and will be incredibly expensive.
But I can’t wait for the next evolution of music technology!
Until then, check out these reviews of pedals and boards that are the best options of 2017! I have no doubt that this guide will help you as you are picking out the next sick addiction to your instrument kit!
1. Line 6 POD HD500X
First of all, friend, let me say that in the world of multi-effects pedals, two names are arguably regarded as the top contenders duking it out: The HD500X by Line 6 and the GT-100 by Boss. There are, of course, unique strengths and drawbacks to each, but I think the title needs to go to Line 6.
For starters, its construction is awesome. This model sports a durable metal chassis, pedal, and switches. It has a can’t-miss backlit LCD display. Dual inputs mean that you can run two simultaneous streams. You can take advantage of the loop station to run up to a 45 second loop.
Furthermore, it’s magnificently versatile. The HD500X comes with a staggering 256 presets already programmed and at the ready with an additional 512 presets available for you to program with your own customized effects. The cabinet simulator and amp tones are definitely ahead of the pack. The amp modeling in particular is stellar, with 25 guitar amps and even a bass amp to toy around with.
And I would be remiss if I failed to mention that you can use up to eight different selections simultaneously, giving you more than enough room to flex your creativity onstage or at home.
There’s a significant online community to be found, which means you have tons of pedal sages on standby, ready to answer any questions or provide real-life tips and tweaks. You can check out the Line 6 message board to find expert information and honest opinions for any issue you’re likely to encounter.
Effects can be programmed completely from your computer. With a superior selection, one can find hundreds of delicious patches are available to download online.
It’s true that you’ll occasionally run into the odd user-created patch that, while designed to be used with this pedal in particular, is incompatible with the HD500X.
Fortunately, the technically endowed guitar fairies have smiled and bequeathed unto us a few different software options that can convert incompatible patches to the correct file type, and they’re all just a Google search away. (Thank you, guitar fairies.)
And speaking of software, let’s talk editing for a moment. Guitarists differ here. Some feel like this pedal’s included editing software is clumsy or dated or that there is a learning curve that makes experimenting with sounds less than efficient. Many (I would say most), however, greatly prefer the editing software to that of its competitors (like, say, the GT-100).
It’s comparatively easy to hit the ground running with the HD500X, but becoming a seasoned pro would certainly take more patience and effort.
There are a couple other drawbacks to this model that send some musicians to Team GT-100. While it obviously has little bearing on the actual sound, the display screen is admittedly a little dated. The reason I say “little bearing” and not “no bearing” is because the screen design does affect interaction with the tuner, which could indirectly play a role in the end result.
Some musicians have also cited a gap of silence when changing patches as a reason they prefer the Boss. It certainly requires some getting used to.
Overall, however, the HD500X has a reputation for beautiful sound, a practically flawless harmonizer, and a deep and wide selection of versatile tones and effects from which to choose. It’s also super light and easily portable, making it ideal for roadie free professionals who need to travel lean.
2. Boss GT-100
Running a very close second to the HD500X is the GT-100.
The sound is comparable to its competitor, providing warm lows and clear, ringing highs.
There can be a bit of a buzzy quality when using the distortion, but the clean channels are crisp and chiming, especially when using it to process effects in tandem with a real amp, which I would say is the GT-100’s true strong suit. 2-cable and 4-cable methods both yield a noticeable difference.
The dual digital screen interface makes it easier to stay on top of everything that’s happening with your music.
In fact, many insist that this pedal boasts the best screen out there among similar models, and I would say it definitely surpasses the Line 6 for easy visibility when it’s all the way down there on the floor.
Also passing its competitors is the GT-100’s two pedal stomp tuner, which is easy and accurate. You can create your own scales and intervals, which is a feature decidedly absent from other models, including the HD500X.
Also, the “silence gap” mentioned in the Line 6 review above is basically nonexistent here, with seamless transitions from patch to patch.
While there are a lot of advantages to the GT-100, there are a few drawbacks, too. For instance, the software is dated.
This contributes to what many consider to be a pretty steep learning curve. The former online community that existed for troubleshooting and the like was hacked and hasn’t been the same since.
You can certainly still find the support you’d need, but it may take more digging. Other issues include a lackluster harmonizer and delays that get pitchy when you use the tap tempo.
Unlike its challenger, this fella doesn’t come with any particularly exciting editing software, but there are a few different compatible software available for purchase online. (I’ve heard rumor there are some free ones out there, too.)
And, of course, some musicians feel like this pedal can have a negative effect on interaction with their instruments.
Hang-ups aside, it’s a fantastic piece of equipment. I love the super simple toggle between manual mode and bank mode.
Noteworthy, too, is that it boasts what is arguably the easiest access to stompbox mode and some of the best amp modeling among its peers, including an extensive list of hard to find vintage amps (the Marshall 1959 bears a particularly uncanny resemblance to its predecessor, but they’re all worth trying out). It’s definitely an market frontrunner for a reason.
3. Zoom G5
My pick for third runner up is another industry favorite: the Zoom G5.
A brightly lit, four screen digital LCD display offers a lot of information at a glance, offering independent control of each screen at any time the mood strikes you.
The interface is simple, even elegant, with an intuitive layout. The vast library of 123 virtual stompboxes and 297 built-in patches is way, way more than anyone really needs and can keep any musician busy exploring and tinkering for a long time.
Unfortunately, scrolling through all that wonderment could be part of what keeps you occupied for a long time. You have to scroll through every single option in the banks to select the one you’re after since they’re not categorized or anything.
The screens, while informative and cool, don’t manage to show everything that’s going on at once. You have to scroll through them some more to get a current status on all nine of your available effect slots. Also, the screens are a bit on the small side. As in, you might need to squint a little and it can be hard to see while standing.
What really sets the G5 apart is the 12AX7 tube booster, which provides up to 16dB of amp overdrive. It is really something special. Use it to add luxurious warmth or sparkling brightness to your tone with the push of a button.
The included loop station can be a little tricky to operate, requiring holding down a couple of switches simultaneously to access this feature. You also can’t use it while changing patches, so that’s another thing to keep in mind.
Musicians love this model for the sound quality. Listening to the output, you can hear chimey, bright tones, with noteworthy brilliance on the clean channels. The sounds seem more luminous than other contenders in its category, including the VOX StompLab IIG (which is another top pick I’ll discuss in greater detail below).
One thing to keep in mind is that the included owner’s manual is surprisingly slim and doesn’t cover all that can be explored with this model. I would definitely encourage you to do a little intrepid experimentation of your own to discover all it has to offer.
In addition to the aforementioned looper, the G5 comes outfitted with a built in drum machine and easy to use tuner, making it ideal for both practice at home and live gigs with a light setup.
This is a great model to consider if you’re looking for a versatile, moderately priced piece of equipment. You’ll get an impressive breadth of versatility and a sound that’s comparable to more expensive pedals.
4. Boss ME-80
That’s right, you guys. For pick number four, I’m circling back around to Boss.
The ME-80 sports an easy to use, knob based interface, which means that there are no labor intensive scrolling sessions.
No slogging through endless effects every time you want to change things up.
Instead, everything is right there at a glance and you can dial in your custom sound with a few simple twists. The functions are gathered into eight logical categories, which can be used simultaneously to create your perfect tone blends.
Complex multi-effect arrangements can be programmed into the pedal and recalled instantly from this pedal’s stompbox style on/off setup.
The specialty COSM amp modeling comes courtesy of the ME-80’s rather costlier cousin, the GT-100. Also included is a phrase loop station that records up to 38 seconds of groovy loopin’.
One of the unique things that I really like about this choice is that the switches are lined up smartly in two rows. What’s more, each switch is placed at a different height level. Both of these clever features make it easier to discern between functions that clumsy feet might easily mix up or accidentally bump otherwise.
Another truly cool feature on this model is the freeze setting, which you can activate by pressing down on the expression pedal to sustain (or “freeze”) a chord. You simply need to pull back on the expression pedal to release the chord again. Did I already call this cool? Because it’s worth repeating: this feature is cool.
(I’ll let you ruminate on whether or not that freeze/cool pun was intended.)
The user-friendly software is included free and can be used to edit and program your own sounds or to download brand new ones from the Internet. In fact, the database of unique patches available for ME-80 owners to download online is HUGE, including a fairly extensive library of celebrities’ personal, customized effects.
Also noteworthy is the inclusion of popular effects (like, say, chorus or reverb) placed at several different intervals so you can change up your sound in dozens of new ways. It’s like a sound genie.
Wish you could run a few different choruses at the same time? Poof! Done. Want to hear a chorus before a flanger…and THEN want to hear a flanger before a chorus after some distortion? Your wish is your ME-80’s command.
I’ll spare you the obligatory “like a Boss” pun…mostly because they all sounded ridiculous.
It’s a really great selection at a good price point for the market. I’d say it’s perfect for the serious musician who’s ready to stretch out and cover a little more ground without spending like a rock star.
5. VOX StompLab IIG
And rounding out my picks for today, we have the StompLab IIG.
The IIG is a budget conscious, no frills multi-effect pedal. And that means it’s all the necessities…with little else.
It’s outfitted with a sturdy metal chassis and the requisite wah wah pedal. It has several sounds programmed and ready to play. The amp modeling is there. It has a good tuner.
There are, however, a few conspicuous absences that are worth weighing out. For instance, this model is the only one of my picks that doesn’t come with a loop station. It also gets by just fine without a tap tempo feature, thank you very much.
It’s true that this pedal decidedly less flashy than some of my other picks, but it still has plenty of features to get the job done right.
It comes with 100 preset programs like rock, blues, metal, and pop. Edit and save your own settings to 20 custom slots. Like the ME-80, this one has a knob based interface. Switch up your effects category, gain, and level with three dials. There are also 103 types of modeling functions to work with.
A few musicians have encountered some frustration over the IIG’s power setup. Some have missed the convenience of an included A/C adapter, as this pedal’s default power source is four good ol’ AAs. Replacing the batteries is somewhat of a chore, involving unscrewing four itty bitty screws and removing the entire bottom plate from the unit to access the battery case.
There is, however, a 9V power adapter available for purchase separately. It doesn’t cost very much. I recommend springing for it.
Power supply issues aside, what the StompLab lacks in convenience, it makes up for in performance. The sound is exceptional, especially considering its price tag. While lacking the crystal clarity of some of its higher priced brothers, many have compared the ME-80’s tone to the sound one might expect from a single pedal.
While this model is much smaller than many of its peers (dare I call it tiny?), this can be an advantage to the traveling independent performer or any musician with limited gear space at home (Hello, 350 square foot bachelor pad dwellers. Yes, even for you.).
Beginner musicians looking to broaden their scope will also appreciate the IIG for its accessibility and simplicity on a dime.